The Greeley Ponds trail is a popular hike that leads to a pair of beautiful ponds surrounded by the White Mountains.
We got up early to take a scenic drive and do some hiking along the Kancamagus Highway. We decided to check out the trail leading to the Greeley Ponds. This hike intrigued me, because it is so different from anything we have in Virginia. Ponds and lakes are not terribly common in the Blue Ridge, so I thought a hike leading to two ponds surrounded by mountains sounded really perfect.
The trail did not disappoint! The woods in New Hampshire are so thick and green and different. I love the abundant evergreens in the New England woods. Everything is so fragrant, lush and moss-covered. Old fallen trees become nurseries for tiny mushrooms and tree seedlings. Streams trickle in seemingly every direction. Even the birds are different – singing unfamiliar songs up in the trees.
The Greeley Ponds Trail is relatively easy – with only about 500 feet of elevation gain over 2.5 miles. The things that slow you down are the roots, rocks and mud. You have to watch your feet with every step. We found our trekking poles to be very helpful. Many places along the trail are traversed using wooden planks and split logs. There are several small streams to cross along the way, hopping from rock to rock. Some of the trail system is a little confusing because cross-country skiing trails cross the hiking trail in many places. The key is to look for yellow blazes.
At the 1.7-mile mark, the Upper Greeley Pond comes into view. There are several places to climb down to the shoreline and take in views of the pond. Although Upper Greeley is the smaller of the two ponds, I found it the prettier of the two. I loved seeing the towering mountains all around the pond.
Lower Greeley Pond is just several tenths of a mile past the end of Upper Greeley. There is a big stand of what appears to be dead hemlocks at the end of the pond. It gives the pond a swamp-like appearance. The lower pond also has fewer places to enjoy a shoreline view.
We turned around for our return hike a little past the end of Lower Greeley Pond. Although, if you want a longer hike, the trail continues, following the Mad River all the way to Livermore Road.
We didn’t see a soul on the hike out to the ponds, but passed numerous groups of hikers on the return trip. Greeley Ponds is clearly a popular hike in this area.
The Greeley Ponds Trail is close to the western side of the Kancamagus Highway, so it was our first stop along the way. The trail has a small parking lot that tends to get crowded during the busy summer. This is a fee area, so you’ll need to deposit $3 in an envelope and display your pass.
The trail wasn’t difficult, but due to the recent rain, it was a little muddy and slick in spots. I also felt overwhelmed by mosquitoes and had to flail around and swat them at every step. It reminded me of the quote from Lord of the Rings when Merry asks, “What do they eat when they can’t get hobbit?”. Well, my answer to Merry is “me”. The bug repellent held many off, but other than taking a DEET bath, you’ll likely find a bite or two without multiple applications along the hike. Christine asked if I would rather have the flies and mosquitoes in New Hampshire or the gnats and ticks in Virginia. Maybe it’s because of what I’m experiencing now, but give me some ticks and the threat of Lyme Disease over these pesky creatures.
The yellow-blazed Greeley Ponds Trail goes for 1.3 miles until it reaches a junction with the East Osceola Trail (you could add this to your hike if you want for an additional three mile out-and-back hike). At this junction, you will see the sign stating you should reach the Lower Greeley Pond at 1.7 miles. The trail intersects several times with a blue-blazed trail, but this is a cross-country skiing trail to the ponds (Hikers stay off the ski trails in the winter, so they can avoid leaving footprints over the cross-country ski tracks). Both will get you to the same place, but you’ll notice the yellow-blazed trail will be a shorter route. Once the pond comes into view, you can see a short off-trail path to a beach-y area with good views of the pond. Going back on the trail, you continue along the bank and can continue to get different views. Staying on the main trail, you will reach the Upper Greeley Pond around the 2 mile marker. There are a few good views of this longer pond for the next few tenths of a mile and then you can return the way you came.
There is no camping allowed within .25 mile of the Greeley Ponds, but we did see some illegal campsites around the area created by people that weren’t respectful of the ecosystems around the area.
The area around the ponds, especially the Upper Greeley Pond seems like a great area for birdwatchers. We were treated with songs from warblers and the knocking of woodpeckers.
There are a few geocaches along the trail:
The hike exhibited a lot of different features of the area’s forests – dense pines and birches, gorgeous ponds, and erratic boulders along the way. The minimal elevation change makes this a good hike for families as long as you can maintain good footing on wet surfaces. We saw a few groups with dogs along the trail, so it is even four-legged friendly. (Please note…dogs are not allowed on the ski trails in the winter)
- Distance – 5 miles
- Elevation Change – 500 ft
- Difficulty – 2. The hike has a very gradual uphill.
- Trail Conditions – 2. Like most trails in New Hampshire, this one is rocky, muddy and covered with roots.
- Views –2. Some nice views of the mountains at the ponds.
- Waterfalls/streams – 3.5. Ponds aren’t really lakes or streams, but they do qualify for a high rating for water features.
- Wildlife – 2. Lots of bird species near the ponds.
- Ease to Navigate – 3. Pay attention to the yellow blazes and you won’t get lost.
- Solitude – 2. This is a popular and well-traveled hike.
Directions to trailhead:
Take I-93 Exit 32 at Lincoln and go east on Route 112/Kancamagus Highway about 10.5 miles to the marked Greeley Ponds parking lot.